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January 07, 2010

Turning rocks into wheels

Three recent askings have involved my seeking access to places I needed to be. Symbolic? Portentious? Musings, below the fold. But first:

1) Let me drive down this blocked road, soldier?

When Mr. A's parents were in town last week, we visited a local tourist destination: some tidepools next to an old lighthouse. Rather, they visited, because I had a cold so I dropped them off and sought refuge in a nearby cafe. When I returned to pick them up, the long and winding road leading down to the beach was roped off, and a real live soldier was standing in the way.

"Can I get through? I'm trying to pick someone up," I asked through my open window.

"No more room down there! All traffic needs to move forward," he replied. I think he was from the naval base. Uniformed, stalky and blond. A man. Yet just a boy.

"I'm just trying to pick someone up! I won't park. I promise!"

"You're really just picking someone up?"

"Yes! Tourists. They're waiting for me. And no cell reception, so I can't tell them to come up. Please!?"

"Fine. Go. Come right back. Go!!!" he yelled. A friendly yell, as in "scram before any other drivers see you and ask for the same favor."

Aye aye!

2) Free parking if I drop names?

A few months ago, I went to the Getty Villa, a museum in Malibu that specializes in Greek and Roman antiquity, and I ended up getting an epic case of food poisoning. The next day I called to let them know. A very apologetic manager told me that next time I go to the museum, I will get free parking, a $15 value.

"Tell anyone who's at the parking booth to speak with me," she said and gave me her name.

I went to the Getty center again this weekend, a day or two after the tidepool trip, and at the parking booth I began my explanation: "I had food poisoning a few months ago and [Name] told me I should get free parking. She said you should call her to confirm--"

"I'm just going to give you the pass. Because if you know her name, then you should definitely get free parking."


So that's how it's done.

Well fabulous, darling.


3) Can I get by?

Just now, there was a group of people doing tai chi or some sort of slow paced martial art in a small enclosed patio. Which stood precisely between me and my destination. First thought: go around. Take an extra 4 minutes but don't disrupt the workout. Second thought: they're taking a break. They're not actually doing the moves, just warming up or cooling down. Why not give it a shot. It will be good for their concentration. Hehe.

"Do you mind if I swing behind you?" I asked the instructor.

"Hmm, I dunno," he joked. "You're lucky we haven't picked up our weapons yet. I think we can let you through."


So. Why did I clump these three requests together? Because they happened days apart. And because access and obstacles have been on my mind lately. In the broader sense of those words.

All the professional questions stewing in my mind could be phrased in terms of access. Between me and my objective -- namely, a satisfactory job post-graduation in my chosen industry -- there are certain obstacles: the current economy, the weak market for my industry in the city where I live, the sad fact that my academic preparation is in a whimsical but totally irrelevant field, and several other forces I won't bore you with.

For a long time, I believed that solution was to blast through obstacles, or perhaps circumvent them, by forging the safest and surest path to get to where I want. Learn the right skills, put the right kinds of experiences on my resume, develop a network of mentors, and generally excel. That should make it easier for me to reach my goal. Right?


Today, I'm seeing things differently.

Say you're pushing a rock up a hill and it keeps rolling back down. You persevere, look for the gentlest slope up the hill, invest in quality hiking shoes. Maybe you even devise a contraption that will help ease the burden, or ask for help in pushing the rock up the hill. Soon, six people are standing behind you and you're all pushing pushing pushing, and the rock starts to move a little more steadily, a little more smoothly, and you think you might make it. And then it slips again.

Is the burden too heavy for you? Is the mountain too big? Are you a wimp? Or are you merely mortal?

So you stop.

You determine you are wasting your time. You're not about to become a character in someone else's myth.

And you drill a hole through that rock, push a pole through the hole, attach a platform through the pole, and ride that rock down the hill.

[this rocks!]

You've turned the rock into a wheel.

Who knows what's at the bottom of the hill?

(Another option is step to the left or right, let the rock barrel downward without you. Even if it crushes your toes. Get out of the goddamn way. Then, lay down, tuck your hands under your head, study the cloud formations, catch your breath and smile, hitchhike to Berkeley and open a taco stand.

Who's to say you should be pushing that rock in the first place?

Who's to say your destination is at the top of the hill and not behind a taco stand in Berkeley?

Only you're better at eating tacos than making them, so you'll take Option One, the surprise at the bottom of the hill.)

Instead of obsessing over obstacles and means of access -- where I want to be, how to get there and what's stopping me -- I'm beginning to recalibrate. I'm trying to identify where I'd land if I didn't struggle. Maybe I'd be much happier, even if it's nebulous from this vantage point.

Not to say I'm giving up. Not to say I'm ditching the rock. Not yet, at least. But I am making sure I still want to end up on the same mountain I did 10 years ago. I'm asking myself the questions I didn't think of asking, before. I am -- well, yes, by golly -- I guess I'm finally getting a clue:

The most important questions are the ones you ask yourself.
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